Democrats in both the Senate and House are mobilizing against an effort by Republican leaders to undermine the Green New Deal, momentarily derailing attempts to create division and halt the resolution’s momentum.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently pledged to hold a vote on the Green New Deal resolution as soon as this week — rather than a display of support for climate action, the goal was to divide Democrats. In response, Senate Democrats are now rallying behind a unity resolution, separate from the Green New Deal, urging climate action.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are increasingly backing the Green New Deal resolution itself: nearly 40 percent of the caucus now supports the sweeping blueprint mandating rapid decarbonization of the U.S. economy over the next decade.
On Tuesday, all 47 Senate Democrats and independents announced that they will back a resolution calling for climate action separate from the Green New Deal proposal. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member on Environment and Public Works Committee, are leading the effort. Although the text of the rival resolution does not seem to be currently available, it reportedly will declare people-driven climate change to be an enduring phenomenon and call for immediate government action, albeit with no timetables or targets.
The move appears to be an attempt to avoid directly voting on the Green New Deal itself, as McConnell had hoped, and as the name suggests, underscores unity over division.
“It doesn’t matter if you are from a coastal state or from a landlocked state, if you care about public health or the environment, or if you care about our economy or national security,” Carper said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday. “The fact is, every person living in this country will eventually see or experience the effects of climate change, if they don’t already today.”
The unity resolution follows several weeks of intense back-and-forth after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) first introduced the Green New Deal resolution on February 7. The blueprint is co-sponsored by a number of Democratic 2020 hopefuls in the Senate, but has failed to gain significant traction with much of the chamber.
In an effort to deepen divides between Democrats on climate action, McConnell declared two weeks ago that the Senate would hold a vote on the resolution. This was originally expected as early as February 28.
Democrats widely panned that tactic as a show vote but initially offered no indicator of how they might proceed. But last Friday, a video live-streamed by the nonprofit youth-led Sunrise Movement went viral, showing Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) engaging in a terse exchange with young activists who back the Green New Deal. The heated conversation sparked furor online and widespread condemnation from climate activists of Feinstein, who dismissed the Green New Deal as largely untenable.
The exchange illustrated divides among Democrats, but it has also served as a turning point for the party. Following the uproar, a number of Democrats indicated their intent to vote “present” during any Green New Deal resolution vote in the Senate — seemingly a ceremonial action to preserve party unity. Feinstein herself said Tuesday that she planned to vote “present” on the resolution.
All of this culminated Tuesday afternoon, however, with McConnell abruptly declaring that the vote would take place at some point before the congressional August recess. A spokeswoman for Carper told ThinkProgress that it was unclear when or if that vote might happen.
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) have since called on McConnell to hold a full day of debate on climate change before any Green New Deal vote occurs.
“We believe it is imperative the American people hear where both sides stand on this critical issue,” the senators wrote in a letter to the majority leader on Tuesday.
It is also unclear when or if the Senate Democratic unity resolution will see a vote.
Differing views on climate action
While Senate Democrats work to unite in the Republican-controlled chamber, House Democrats are increasingly embracing the Green New Deal. As of Wednesday, the resolution has 89 co-sponsors in the House — 38 percent of the Democratic caucus.
Unified support, however, is still far from guaranteed in the lower chamber. While a number of Democrats on key House committees back the Green New Deal, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) said Tuesday that the upcoming 2020 fiscal budget non-binding resolution won’t call for a Green New Deal. But Yarmuth noted the climate resolution is important to many Democrats and said that he is still meeting with committee leaders to discuss their priorities.
Some Republicans, meanwhile, are also shifting their approach to climate change. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich called on the party this week to address global warming and said he will push “centrist” climate proposals appealing to conservatives. Republicans are also increasingly receptive of carbon pricing and other more limited approaches to climate action.
Activists have panned that approach as too narrow in scope — a critique that extends to members of both parties who have been slow to embrace dramatic climate action as captured by the Green New Deal. Following Friday’s confrontation with Feinstein, Sunrise Movement co-founder and Executive Director Varshini Prakash said in a statement that “fundamental change” is needed in the Democratic Party and that those who have not embraced the Green New Deal “are out of-touch with the center of energy in the party.”
But Sunrise didn’t reserve its fire only for Democrats. On Monday, 42 youth activists with the group were arrested while protesting outside McConnell’s office with a group of more than 250 people, including Kentucky high schoolers.
“If I could say anything to McConnell, I would ask him: ‘Does it not weigh on you at all that your own constituents are facing the life or death consequences of climate change all across the state, yet you continue to side with fossil fuel CEOs?'” Destine Rigsby, a 17-year-old from Louisville, said in a statement.
“You line your pockets while we die in floods and choke on the air we breathe, yet you don’t even have the decency to look us in the eyes.”